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THE WITHERING WORK OF GOD’S SPIRIT – NEW EDITION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Thursday Evening, December 14, 2017


This sermon will not help you at all unless you are already very unhappy about being lost. It will not help most of you at all! Why? Because you are not serious, just fooling around – so this sermon will not do you any good at all. You won’t understand it unless God makes you feel very sad and hopeless! No hope at all! You must feel at least some of that before you will trust Christ and be saved. You won’t understand it unless God makes you feel very sad and hopeless! No hope at all! You must feel at least some of that before you will trust Christ and be saved. Please stand and turn to Isaiah, chapter 40, verses 6 and 7.

“The voice [of God] said, Cry. And he [Isaiah] said, What shall I cry? [God said] All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:6-7).

You may be seated.

“The voice said, Cry.” What voice was it that spoke to the prophet? It was “the mouth of the Lord,” spoken of in verse five. The voice of God spoke to Isaiah and said, “Cry.” Dr. John Gill said that, “It is the Lord’s voice to the prophet... and to every Gospel minister, giving them an order to preach” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the Old Testament in Six Volumes, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume 5, p. 222).

Then Isaiah said, “What shall I cry?” That is the question which comes before a preacher’s mind as he prepares the sermons he is to deliver – “What shall I cry?” The Hebrew word for “cry” is qârâ. It carries the idea “to call out,” “of [confronting] a person met” (Strong #7121). It is the same Hebrew word used in Isaiah 58:1,

“Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Isaiah 58:1).

Every Gospel preacher is therefore commanded to use a certain method and style in his preaching. Sadly, it is not the method and style that is used in our day. But it was the method and style of Isaiah, and of all the prophets of the Old Testament. It was the method and style of John the Baptist, the great forerunner of Christ. John the Baptist referred back to these very verses in Isaiah when he said, “I am the voice of one crying” (John 1:23). John the Baptist was the mouthpiece of God, and it was God who was crying through him, as God cried out through the prophet Isaiah, whom John quoted,

“[John] said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness…as said the prophet Esaias” (John 1:23).

The Greek word translated “crying” is bǒaō in John 1:23. It means to “shout…cry” (Strong, #994). Thus, from the Hebrew word for cry, we learn that it is to “cry aloud” (Isaiah 58:1). It means that the preacher must speak out loudly as the mouthpiece of God. The Greek word goes farther, telling the preacher to shout as one “shouting and crying out” to sinners lost in the wilderness of this world!

That method of loud preaching was used by the prophets, who cried out the message of God, as Isaiah and John the Baptist did, “calling out” to them, “[confronting]” their hearers with the Word that God had given them. But, as I said, that is not the popular style of preaching today. There is now a disobedience to the Bible in the manner and style of preaching, for we are told prophetically,

Preach the word…For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (II Timothy 4:2-3).

I can’t think of a prophetic verse in the Bible that better describes most modern sermons. There is constant “teaching” in our day, but very little “preaching” – “teaching” without urgency and fire – for modern sermons do not have as their model the One who said to Isaiah, “Cry aloud, spare not,” nor is the source of such modern sermons the voice of God who spoke to Isaiah, “Cry;” nor is it like the voice of God speaking through Jesus in the seventh chapter of John, when the Lord “cried…in the temple” (John 7:28); nor is it like Christ in that same chapter, when He “stood and cried” (John 7:37). Nor is it the style of the preaching of Peter, on the Day of Pentecost, who cried and “[confronted]” his hearers, shouting the words that God had given him, as we are told in Acts 2:14,

“Peter, standing up with the eleven, lifted up his voice, and said unto them…” (Acts 2:14).

Dr. Gill said, “‘And lift up his voice,’ that he might be heard by the whole multitude…as well as to shew his zeal and fervour of spirit; for being endued with the Spirit from on high, he was fearless of men” (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, vol. II, pp. 153-154; note on Acts 2:14). So, I must repeat, there is a disobedience to God in most of our pulpits today, a terrible disobedience in the very manner and styl of preaching!

These modern ministers (particularly in America and Europe) have overlooked the fact that there is a sense of “crying” out and “[confronting]” the hearers with the message of “the voice” of God in real, Biblical preaching. “The voice said, Cry.” That is the style of real Gospel preaching! Nothing less than that can be used of God to move dead hearts and sluggish minds! Nothing less can do that! No wonder there are so few real conversions today in the Western world! Brian H. Edwards said, “Revival preaching has a power and authority that bring the Word of God like a hammer to the heart and conscience. This is exactly what is absent from most of our preaching today. The men who preach in revival are always unafraid and urgent” (Brian H. Edwards, Revival! A People Saturated with God, Evangelical Press, 1997 edition, p. 103).

Then Isaiah asked, “What shall I cry?” As I said, that is the preacher’s problem as he works on his sermons: “What shall I cry?”

“What shall I cry?” Dr. Lloyd-Jones said,

What is the message?... I do not [preach] my own thoughts and ideas…I deliver to [you] what has been given to me. I have been given it, and I give it to [you]. I am a vehicle, I am a channel, I am an instrument, I am a representative [of Almighty God] (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, M.D., Preaching and Preachers, Zondervan Publishing House, 1971, p. 61).

My long-time pastor, teacher and mentor Dr. Timothy Lin (1911-2009) said,

Among all pastoral duties, the most difficult and most important task is to know, without doubt, the message God intends for him to preach each Lord’s day (Timothy Lin, Ph.D., The Secret of Church Growth, FCBC, 1992, p. 23).

That is what we have here in Isaiah forty, verse six: “The voice said, Cry. And Isaiah said, What shall I cry?” It is the way a pastor should receive and give his sermons. The text may be divided into two main points.

I. First, I must cry out on the shortness of life.

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness [all the loveliness] thereof is as the flower of the field.” That is an important thing to preach! We should tell you that you are like grass, or like flowers that shoot up in a field after it rains in the springtime. Soon life passes away. How very soon this happens! It seems as though your youth will go on forever, but it passes so quickly. I look back at my own life. Next spring I will have been in the ministry 60 years. It seems like 6 months instead of 60 years! And so it will be with you. The summer sun comes up. The grass turns brown. The flowers wither and die. Life is transitory, fleeting, temporary, brief, short lived. The Apostle James referred to this passage in Isaiah to show the foolishness of focusing one’s life merely on career advancement and the accumulation of material things.

“But the rich…is made low: because as the flower of the grass he shall pass away. For the sun is no sooner risen with a burning heat, but it withereth the grass, and the flower thereof falleth, and the grace of the fashion of it perisheth: so also shall the rich man fade away” (James 1:10-11).

Very few people ever have that insight. They reach and grasp to advance in this world, without being struck by what seems like an obvious fact – it will end sooner than you think! C. T. Studd (1860-1931) was one of the few rich men in his day to see that. He inherited a large fortune, but he gave it all away and went as a missionary – first to China and then to Africa. And it was C. T. Studd who said,

Only one life,
   ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ
   will last.

How I wish that every young person would read about C. T. Studd, and seek to copy his life! And why not, since “all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field”? Ah, if only you would see the truth of that!

You look in the mirror and your face is fresh and youthful. You look again (so short a time) and there are flecks of grey in your hair and lines in your face. It’s gone. And almost no one gets saved after the age of 30.

Only one life,
   ‘twill soon be past;
Only what’s done for Christ
   will last.

Soon you will pass from this earth and your soul will stand before the Judgment Bar of God. You will take nothing with you but your soul. But you will not even keep that if you are not converted! In the plainest possible words, Jesus said,

“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

It is absolutely necessary for you to be born again. Otherwise you will lose your very soul – for all time, and for all eternity. “But,” someone says, “there are many important things I must do.” As one girl put it, “Life was calling.” To you I must quote Christ’s two great questions:

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36-37).

“All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field” (Isaiah 40:6).

Therefore I must cry out and preach constantly on the shortness of your life! It only seems like I just learned to preach! But my time is already gone and I must give up this pulpit to a younger man. I just learned to preach – and I must stop and give it up to John Samuel and Noah! “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.” For God’s sake don’t waste another year! Get saved now! Solomon said, “Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth” (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

II. Second, I must cry out on the withering work of God’s Spirit.

Listen to the text again,

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

Dr. Gill said,

At conversion the spirit of the Lord blows a blast upon all the goodliness of man…and these cause a withering [of] men’s goodness; the spirit of God shews [them] that their holiness is not true holiness; that their righteousness has only the appearance…before men; and their religion and goodliness [are] a mere form; and their good works [are] not sufficient to justify and save, and bring [them] to heaven (Gill, ibid., p. 223).

This is what Spurgeon called “The Withering Work of the Spirit” (C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Pilgrim Publications, 1971 reprint, volume XVII, pp. 373-384). As did his predecessor Dr. Gill, Spurgeon said that Isaiah 40:7 speaks of the Holy Spirit withering you, so that your soul dries up and sees its helplessness, sin and hopelessness without the Saviour.

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

Spurgeon said,

The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of your souls, and [cause your] beauty to be seen as a fading flower. He must so convince [you] of sin…that [you] shall see [your] fallen nature is corruption itself (Spurgeon, ibid., p. 375).

That is the withering work of the Holy Spirit! It is that work of the Spirit of God, which dries up your false hopes, shows you the horrible deadness and corruption of your own nature, withers away all hope from your mind, and makes you see that your only real hope lies in Christ, your bleeding substitute.

When the Holy Spirit “withers” your soul, you will see that your so-called “goodness” is nothing but filthy rags. You will see that all the religious things you are doing are mere hypocrisy; that none of the “good” things you do can justify you in the sight of a holy God; that nothing you have done so far can make you acceptable before God; that your belief is nothing but a mental agreement with the words of the Bible; that none of these things can justify you in God’s sight; that all you have done, and tried to do, cannot save you from the fire of judgment in the day of God’s wrath!

These things will become clear to you when you pass through the withering work of the Holy Spirit. One girl said, “I felt so disgusted with myself.” Soon afterward she was converted. Another girl said, “I am displeased with myself.” She got nowhere. Dr. Cagan and I counseled her that she must feel more than “displeased.” Like the girl who was converted, she must feel “disgusted.” Until she feels, deep down inside, that she is totally disgusted with herself, she will not have experienced the withering and inner turmoil that is so common among those who are truly converted.

The word “wither” is very important. You must know what it means if you want to understand what is beginning to happen to some of you. The word translated “withereth” in Isaiah 40:7 comes from a Hebrew word which means, “to be ashamed…to dry up (as water) or wither (as herbage)…be ashamed…be confounded…wither away” (Strong’s Concordance #3001).

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

That must happen to you. The Spirit of God must wither and dry up the confidence you have in yourself. God’s Spirit must shrivel, sear, dry up your self-confidence, until your heart wilts like a dying flower – until you are “confounded,” perplexed, embarrassed, and “ashamed” of yourself. As one girl said just before she was converted, “I felt so disgusted with myself.” That is the withering work of the Holy Spirit, not that she was “displeased” with herself, but that she was “disgusted” with herself. That is what happens in true awakening, in real conviction. That is what must happen to you or you will never be converted!

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it…” (Isaiah 40:7).

“What shall I cry?” What shall I preach? I must preach on the shortness of life. I must preach on the withering work of God’s Spirit. That is the work of an evangelist! That’s the work of a true preacher! – to preach on the withering work of the Spirit of God!

The word “wither” means to shrivel, to dry up, and lose its freshness. Isaiah 40:7 says,

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:7).

Spurgeon said, “The Spirit of God, like the wind, must pass over the field of your souls, and cause [your] beauty to be as a fading flower...The awakened sinner, when he asks that God have mercy on him, is astonished to find that, instead of a speedy peace, his soul is bowed down with a sense of God’s wrath...for you would never value the [Blood of Christ] which cleanses us from all sin if you had not first been made to mourn that you are an unclean thing” (“The Withering Work of the Spirit,” pp. 375, 376).

That is the withering work of the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that dries up your hopes, that shows you the deadness of your heart, that withers away all hope from your mind, that makes you see that your only real hope is in Christ, who died in your place to save you from sin. When the Holy Spirit “withers” your soul, then, and only then, you will see that your so-called “goodness” is nothing but filthy rags, that nothing you have done can make you acceptable to God; that all you have done cannot save you from judgment and Hell.

That is why God lets you have a false conversion. He may let you have many false conversions before He gives you peace. It doesn’t mean that God has left you. Not at all! God is using these false conversions to wither you, to shrivel you, to dry up your false religion. God is withering, drying up your false hope of doing or saying something to save yourself. John Newton said,

I hoped that in some favoured hour,
   At once he’d answer my request,
And by his love’s constraining power
   Subdue my sins and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel
   The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry powers of hell
   Assault my soul in every part.

That’s what is happening to you! That is the withering work of God’s Spirit! Ask Ayako! Ask Danny! Ask John Cagan! Ask Emi Zabalaga! Ask me! We all cried out for God to give us rest – but instead He made us feel like Sheila Ngann. She said, “I felt so disgusted with myself.” Another girl said, “I am so displeased with myself.” Dr. Cagan and I told her she must feel more than just “displeased.” Like Sheila, she must feel “disgusted.” Until you feel that you are totally “disgusted” with yourself, you have not experienced the withering, the inner lostness that is common among those who are really converted.

The word “wither” is very important. You must know what it means to understand what is happening to you. The word “withereth” means “to be ashamed...to dry up (as water)...to be ashamed, confounded, and withered away” (Strong #3001). The Holy Spirit must dry up and kill your self-confidence! – until your heart wilts like a dying flower! – until you are embarrassed and ashamed of yourself. Then, at last, you may cry out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!” He will do it then. But He will only do it then – when all other hope is gone! Only then will He wash you clean with the Blood He shed on the Cross! This sermon will not help you until you are withered. Those who are never withered never get saved. Never! Never! Never! If your hope is gone, then and only then, will you trust Jesus and be washed clean by the Blood He shed for you on the Cross!


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Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove” (by Dr. Isaac Watts, 1674-1748;
to the tune of “O Set Ye Open Unto Me”).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE WITHERING WORK OF GOD’S SPIRIT – NEW EDITION!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass” (Isaiah 40:6-7).

(Isaiah 58:1; John 1:23; II Timothy 4:2-3;
John 7:28, 37; Acts 2:14)

I.   First, I must cry out on the brevity of life, Isaiah 40:6;
James 1:10-11; John 3:3; Mark 8:36-37; Ecclesiastes 12:1.

II.  Second, I must cry out on the withering work of God’s Spirit,
Isaiah 40:7.